October is one of those months that has more than one accepted and recognized birthstone, one faceted and one cabochon and in fact, one that is both. This page has information on both the faceted Pink Tourmaline and the cabochon Opal, and the Mexican Fire Opal.
OPAL and PINK TOURMALINE OCTOBER BIRTHSTONE
All of Nature’s splendor seems to be reflected in the manifold opulence of fine Opals: fire and lightning, all the colors of the rainbow and the soft shine of far seas. Australia is the classical country of origin. Almost ninety-five per cent of all fine opals come from the dry and remote outback deserts.
Numerous legends and tales surround this colorful gemstone, which can be traced back in its origins to a time long before our memory, to the ancient dream time of the Australian aborigines. It is reported in their legends that the creator came down to Earth on a rainbow, in order to bring the message of peace to all the humans. And at the very spot, where his foot touched the ground, the stones became alive and started sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow. That was the birth of the Opals.
The group of fine Opals includes quite a number of wonderful gemstones, which share one characteristic: they shine and sparkle in a continually changing play of colors full of fantasy, which experts describe as “opalizing”. Depending on the kind, place of occurrence, and color of the main body, we differentiate Dark or Black Opal, White or Light Opal, Milk or Crystal Opal, Boulder Opal, Opal Matrix, Yowah Nuts from Queensland – the so-called “picture stones“, and also Mexican Fire Opal. Opal variations are practically unlimited. They all show in their own special way that unique play of colors – except for Fire Opal, which due to its transparency, however, is nevertheless also considered a Fine Opal specimen. If Opals are lacking the typical play of colors, they are simply named “Common Opal”.
Upala, opallios or Opalus – fascination created by tiny spheres
The name Opal was probably derived from Sanskrit “upala“, meaning ”valuable stone“. This was probably the root for the Greek term “opallios”, which translates as “colour change”. In the days of Roman antiquity there existed a so-called “opalus”, or a “stone from several elements”. So the ancient Romans may already have had an inkling why the Opals show such a striking play of colors. But we will come to this later …
Pliny, the famous Roman author, called Opal a gemstone which combines the best possible characteristics of the most beautiful of gemstones: the fine sparkle of Almandine, the shining purple of Amethyst, the golden yellow of Topaz, and the deep blue of Sapphire, ”so that all colors shine and sparkle together in a beautiful combination“.
Up to the first half of the 19th century, Opals were relatively rare. But then their career boomed suddenly and made them one of the most popular gemstones, and the start of this development brought them to the gemstone cutters of the gemstone centre of Idar-Oberstein. In the era of Art Deco the Opals experienced their flourishing, with contemporary gemstone artists preferring them to all other stones because of their subdued charm, which in turn was excellently suited to be combined with enamel, another very popular material of those days.
Opal’s color play emanates a very special attraction and fascination. But what causes this phenomenon? This question was impossible to answer for a very long time. Only when in the 1960s a team of Australian scientists analyzed Opals with an electron microscope, it was discovered that small spheres from silica gel caused interference and refraction manifestations, which are responsible for the fantastic play of colors. The spheres, which are arranged in more or less compact structures, succeed in dissecting the light on its passage through the gemstone and turning it into all the colors of the rainbow, always new and always different.
Australia, classical Opal country
Australia is the classical Opal country and today is the worldwide most important supplier of Fine Opals. Almost 95 per cent of all Opals come from Australian mines. The remaining five per cent are mined in Mexico, and in Brazil’s north, also in the US states of Idaho and Nevada, but recently the stones have also been found in Ethiopia and in the West African country of Mali.
The history of Australian Opal began actually millions of years ago, when parts of Australia were covered by a vast inland sea, and stone sediment was deposited along its shoreline. When the water masses flooded back, they flushed water containing silica into the resulting cavities and niches in the sedimentary rocks, and also the remains of plants and animals were deposited there. Slowly the silica stone transformed into Opal, for basically Opals are simply a combination of silica and water. Or, to be more precise: Opals are a gel from silica, with varying percentages of water.
In 1849 the first Opal blocks were accidentally found on an Australian cattle station called Tarravilla . the first Opal prospectors started in 1890 at White Cliff mining the Opal rocks. And even today the eyes of Opal lovers light up when somebody mentions places like White Cliffs, Lightning Ridge, Andamooka or Coober Peddy: for these are the legendary sites of the Australian Opal fields. The most famous one is probably Lightning Ridge, the place where mainly the coveted Black Opal is found. Andamooka, where Crystal Opal and Light Opal are brought to the light of day, cam boast to be the place where the probably largest Opal was found, with a weight of 6 ,843 kilograms, the “Andamooka Desert Flame”. Coober Peddy, by the way, is a word from Aborigine language meaning „white man in a hole“. This clearly describes how Opal was in fact mined: many Opal prospectors made their home in deep holes or caves in the ground, to protect themselves from the burning heat of daytime and from the icy winds of night time. Usually they worked only with tolls such as pick and shovel. Buckets full of soil, hopefully containing Opal rocks, were pulled up out of the depths of 5 to 40 m deep shafts by hand, for this is the depth of the Opal containing crevices and cavities, which are also mined nowadays.
Being an Opal prospector is still not an easy job, although today of course there are some technical means available, such as trucks or conveyor belts. And still the hope to make the find of a lifetime which will let you live happily ever after attracts many men and women to come to the hot and dusty Australian outback.
About cabochons, doublets and triplets
In order to best bring out the play of color in a Fine Opal, the stones are cut and polished to round or oval cabochons, or any other softly domed shape , depending on the raw material. Only the best qualities of Fire Opal, however, are suited to faceting. The Opal cutter will first of all carefully remove any impurities using a diamond cutting wheel, before working out the rough basic shape. The comes the fine cutting, the finishing with sandpaper and then the final polishing with a wet leather wheel.
Opal is often found as flat lenses, or thin layers, bigger pieces are rather rare. If you leave a thin but supporting layer of the harder mother rock, you will receive a pre-stage of the Opal-doublets which are frequently used today for mass produced jewelry. These are gemstone combinations consisting of a surface from millimeter-thin Opal plates, which have been mounted on Onyx, Obsidian, artificial black glass, or Potch-Opal. Triplets have been developed from this design, here the Opal layer receives an additional cover from Rock Crystal, Plastic, Hard Glass or Lead Glass for protection.
Opal love to be worn on the skin
Due to the differing percentage of water, Opals may easily become brittle. They always contain water – usually between 2 and 6 per cent, but sometimes even more. Thus if stored too dry or exposed to heat over a longer period of time, Opals will show fissures and the play of color will become paler. Therefore, Opal jewelry should be worn as often as possible, for then the gemstone will receive the needed humidity from the air and from the skin of its wearer.
Opals are not very hard: they only achieve 5.5 to 6 on the Mohs’ scale. Therefore they appreciate a protective setting. In earlier days Opal’s sensitive surface was often oiled, but today also sealing them with colorless artificial resin has become quite popular.
From Harlequin to Peacock: Opal experts lingo
When Opal experts talk about “harlequin”, “church windows” or “needle fire”, do not be surprised. They are probably discussing Opals. The play of color in this stone is described with many imaginative terms for various structures and phenomena, like, for example, “flame opal”, “lightning and peacock opal”, or the above named “harlequin” and “church window”.
Opal’s value is not only determined by the body color, transparency and factors based on place of occurrence. (Body color refers to the basic color of the gemstone, which can be black, dark or light and coloured). It is also important if the stone is transparent, translucent or opaque. And the opalizing effect may also influence the transparency.
Black Opal or Opal with a dark grey body shows the most brilliant play of colors imaginable. Crystal opal, which comes immediately after Black Opal in the hit list, should be more transparent with a deep play of colors. White or milky Opals show more diffuse colors and are the least expensive Opals. The occurrence-specific characteristics include, for instance, denominations such as “Black Opal from Lightning Ridge” (we are talking absolute top luxury here) or “Mexican Fire Opal”.
The most important criterion for determining the price of an Opal, however, is the play of color, the colors as such and their pattern. If the color red appears when looking through the stone, all the other colors will appear also. For evaluating Opals the thickness of the Opal layer is considered, the beauty of the patterning, the cut, weight and finish. Finally the total impression will be decisive, and of course offer and demand will determine ho much you will have to pay for “your” Opal. If you are interested in a really valuable specimen, get an Opal expert to advise you, because it takes a real expert to know about the many criteria which determine the price.
Opals and emotions
For ages people have been believing in the healing power of Opal. It is reported to be able to solve depressions and to help its wearer find the true and real love. Opals are supposed to further enhance the positive characteristics for people born under the zodiac sign of Cancer. Black Opal is recommended to those born under Scorpio, and Boulder Opal is the lucky stone for Aries.
The fantastic color play of Opal reflects changing emotions and moods of people. Fire and water, the sparkling images of Boulder Opal, the vivid light flashes of Black Opal or the soft shine of Milk Opal – striking contrasts characterize the colorful world of this fascinating gemstone. Maybe this is the reason why it depends on our daily mood which Opal we prefer. Opals are like human emotions: you always experience them different and anew.
- faceted or cabochon
Fire opals are unique in the lush world of the opals. They were already admired as symbols of the most fervent love in ancient times, in India and in the ancient Persian kingdom, and among the peoples of Central America and the Amerindians. It was believed that a gem that bubbled over with vivacity to such an extent as the fire opal could only have been created in the waters of paradise. The Mayas and Aztecs loved this gemstone and liked to used it in mosaics and for ritualistic purposes. They called it quetzalitzlipyollitli, the 'stone of the bird of paradise'. Yet one day, the gemstone knowledge of Mexico's natives, which had been handed down from generation to generation, somehow sank into oblivion for a long time ...
... until, in or around the year 1835, the fiery treasures hidden in the Mexican highlands were remembered, and work was gradually begun on the systematic mining of the places where they had been found. Today, the fire opal is regarded as the national gemstone of that country.
It is in Mexico that the most significant fire opal deposits in the world lie. Rock strata containing opals run through the Mexican highlands, with their many extinct volcanoes. With a few exceptions, the gemstone, which lies hidden in cavities and crevices, is extracted in open-cast mines, the work giving rise to impressive canyons with walls up to 60 meters high and labyrinthine passages which wind their way through the mining areas.
Sometimes, these orange-red gemstones are also found in other countries, in Honduras or Guatemala, in the USA, Canada, Australia, Ethiopia and Turkey, but these are mostly sites of little or no economic significance. With Brazil it is a different matter. Several years ago, in an agate mine near Campos Borges in the South Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul, fire opals coloured yellow to orange were discovered. They distinguish themselves by their beautiful color, often with slight clouding, but without play of color. Their warm, expressive orange comes in all varieties from yellow to light red, sometimes with a brownish undertone. What is particularly remarkable is the sheer size of the raw stones. Some of them are as big as a man's fist, which opens up completely new possibilities in the way they can be worked. Today, these Brazilian fire opals are setting new trends in the fascinating world of gemstones.
A powerful gemstone with a vivacious color
The fiery, warm glow of the fire opal beguiles jewel enthusiasts the world over. This radiant orange simply cannot be overlooked! The fire opal, which, like the other opals, consists of silicic acid with a relatively high water content, was named for its color. The color itself comes from fine traces of iron oxide. With a hardness of between 6 and 6_ on the Mohs Scale, however, the fire opal is among the somewhat sensitive gemstones which require a protective setting, especially when worn as a ring stone.
Not all fire opals are the same. We differentiate between the common fire opals, which, depending on their quality, are either faceted or cut into cabochons, and the especially valuable ones, which, in addition to their vivacious color, also have the gaudy play of color typical of opals. But with or without play of color, the fire opal plays its part as a top quality gemstone to perfection.
Even those who prefer not to subscribe to the energies in gemstones and the forces which emanate from them will undoubtedly get a feeling of warmth and well-being when they look at a fire opal. In gemstone therapy, opals are generally regarded as gems which people choose intuitively when they are working on a particular aspect of their personality. Seen like this, the fire opal is a good means of helping to make feelings flow and resolve blockages. Connoisseurs say that fire opals bestow courage, stamina, will-power and energy on the wearer. Thanks to their force they disperse old, long outdated ways of thinking and make room for new ones. The warm, fiery orange-red has a positive effect on the psyche and conveys a profound sensation of warmth, peace and harmony. The fire opal is the lucky stone of those born under the sign Aries.
The drier the place where it is found, the more durable the fire opal
Fire opals are either faceted - that is, as far as their transparency allows - or cut as a cabochon, since this is the shape which best brings out the rich glow of this orange jewel. It is the oval which is regarded as the classical shape for valuable fire opals. Brazilian raw stones, however, are also cut into many other imaginative shapes, their sheer size giving cutters and gemstone designers almost unlimited freedom for both work and play.
In spite of their relatively low hardness, opals are not actually that easy for the cutter to work with. When setting up the cut, he must pay attention to the direction in which the stone shows its play of color to the best advantage. When working on the raw stone, the cutter - and later the setter - must take care to ensure that the gem does not come into close contact with great heat, since the water content of the fire opal is unevenly distributed and the stone can crack if dried artificially. Indeed, when the raw stones are found, many fire opals are covered in a chalky white weathering crust, a sign that the stone has aged through loss of water and become cloudy and cracked. Whether and to what extent a fire opal is susceptible to this ageing process is not only dependent on how it is handled, but also has to do with its origin. But an experienced gemstone specialist can judge by where it was found whether a fire opal is going to be durable or not. Having a very precise knowledge of the places where their stones are discovered, opal specialists are able to answer for their durability. One rule of thumb goes: the drier the place where it was found, the more durable the opal.
The tolerance of the fire opal to extreme heat is just as poor as its resistance to acids, alkaline solutions and sharp objects. Very unfavorable conditions compel the opal to surrender its moisture, which can make it cloudy and cracked. Like all opals, it should not be exposed to intense light over long periods. However, it loves to be worn a lot, since this enables it to maintain its water balance, using the moisture of the wearer's skin and that of the air. Having said that, it should be protected against contact with cosmetics. Fire opals which have become matt through being worn a great deal can be re-polished.
A gemstone for people with a positive approach to life
Play of color, body color and transparency are the three criteria which determine the price of a fire opal. The more transparency and 'fire' it has, and the more intense the deep red of its body color, the more valuable it will be. The rarest, and thus the most highly esteemed, is the intense red-orange fire opal from Mexico with its strong play of color. A higher value is placed on fine cabochons with the much loved typical play of color of the opals than on good, faceted fire opals. These gems, which glow from orange to red, are treasures which appeal most of all to active people with a positive approach to life. Their warm, fiery color gives us vigor, fills us with the joys of life and opens our senses to the beauty of Nature. After all, fire opals are themselves a piece of Nature in its most beautiful form.
Tourmalines are precious stones displaying a unique splendor of colors. According to an ancient Egyptian legend this is the result of the fact that on the long way from the Earth’s heart up towards the sun, Tourmaline traveled along a rainbow. And on its way it collected all the colors of the rainbow. This is why nowadays it is called the "Rainbow gemstone”.
However, the name "Tourmaline” has been derived from the Singhalese expression "tura mali”, which translates as "stone of mixed colors.” The very name already refers to the unique spectrum of colors displayed by this gemstone, which is second to none in the realm of precious stones. Tourmalines are red and green, range from blue to yellow. Often they show two or more colors and are cherished for this party- or multi-colored appearance. There are Tourmalines which change their color from daylight to artificial light, others display chatoyancy. No Tourmaline exactly resembles another one: this gemstone shows many faces and is thus excellently suited to match all moods and tempers. It does not come as a surprise, then, that ever since ancient days it has been attributed with magical powers. Tourmaline is supposed to be an especially powerful influence on love and friendship, lending them permanence and stability.
Colors, Names and Nicknames
In order to understand this multitude of colors you will have to polish up your knowledge of gemology: Tourmalines are mixed crystals of complex aluminum-borosilicate varying in their composition. The slightest changes in composition will result in completely different colors. In fact, crystals showing one color only are quite rare; generally one and the same crystal displays several shades and colors. Not only the wide range of colors characterizes this gemstone, it also shows a remarkable dichroism. Depending on the angle of view the color will be different or at least show different intensity. The deepest color always appears along the main axis, a fact that the gemstone cutter has to keep in mind when cutting the stone. This gemstone is excellently suited for wearing and is uncomplicated to care for, since all Tourmalines show a hardness of 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs’ scale. Thus Tourmaline is an interesting gemstone in many aspects indeed.
The different shades of color have been assigned different names in the trade. For example, deep red Tourmaline is named "Rubellite”, provided it shows the same fine ruby-red shade in daylight and in artificial light. Should the color change when the source of light changes, the stone will be called a "Pink Tourmaline”. Blue Tourmalines are called "Indigolith”, "Dravite” is a golden-brown to dark brown Tourmaline, and black Tourmalines are known as "Schorl”. The latter stone is mainly used for engravings and in esotericism, where it is highly cherished because it is reputed to ward off harmful radiation from its wearer.
Very popular is "Verdelith”, the green Tourmaline, however, if its fine emerald-like green is caused by traces of chromium, the stone is named "Chromium-Tourmaline.” But the outstanding highlight among Tourmalines is of course Paraiba Tourmaline, a gemstone showing a vivid deep blue to bluish green, found for the first time in1987 in the mines of the Brazilian state of Paraiba. In good qualities these stones are much coveted treasures. Since yellow Tourmalines from Malawi of brilliant color have been offered on the market, the formerly missing color yellow has been added in excellent quality to the apparently unlimited range of colors shown by the "Rainbow Gemstone.”
These are by no means all the names Tourmaline has achieved: there still have to be mentioned bi-coloured and multi-colored Tourmalines Very popular are also slices cut as cross-sections through Tourmalines, as these will render the full splendor of colors embedded in a specific Tourmaline. For example, such slices taken from Tourmalines with red heart and green border are called a "Watermelon-Tourmaline”; slices with a clear heart and a black border are called "Moor’s head –Tourmaline”
Tourmalines are mined everywhere in the world. There are important occurrences in Brazil, in Sri Lanka and South and Southwest Africa. Other occurrences are situated in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tourmalines are also found in the USA, first of all in Maine and Utah. But although there are rich occurrences of Tourmalines all over the world, good qualities and fine colors are only rarely offered on the market. Therefore, then, the price range achieved by Tourmaline almost matches its wide range of colors.
Not only designers are fascinated by Tourmaline because of its incomparable wealth of colors providing unlimited inspiration. Scientists are also intrigued due to its astonishing physical characteristics: by heating and subsequently cooling down Tourmalines will be charged up. The stone will then show positive charge at one end, and negative charge at the opposite pole. This is termed "pyro-electricity”, according to the Greek word "pyros" denoting fire. Pressure will also lead to the stone’s charging, and in the course of discharging the plus- and minus-poles will alternate, so that the stone will show vibrations similar to Rock Crystal, but much stronger. The Dutch, who originally brought Tourmaline to Europe, already knew about this effect long before it was subjected to scientific study. They used heated Tourmalines to extract the ashes from their meerschaum pipes and named the gemstone "Aschetrekker”.
Tourmaline is a very special stone indeed and holds an outstanding position in the fascinating world of gemstones. Its excellent availability and unique splendor of colors make it one of the most popular gemstones – and besides almost every Tourmaline is an original.
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